by Maryfran Johnson

CIOs Are in an Anxious State

Jan 01, 20123 mins

CIO magazine Editor in Chief Maryfran Johnson sees this year’s State of the CIO survey data as depicting mismatched priorities between IT and business leaders

These anxious, uncertain times are clearly reflected in our 2012 State of the CIO research. The results from this time last year seem giddy in retrospect, with our annual research findings meriting a headline that shouted out “Energizing Business.”

This year’s report is more somber (see “CIOs Disconnected From Business Execs”), drawing attention to some mismatched key priorities between IT and ­business leaders on cost-cutting and competition. In addition to doing our own comprehensive survey of 596 CIOs and senior IT executives, we joined forces with Forrester Research so we could compare our results with the top priorities identified by 377 non-IT executives and another 386 North American CIOs.

Considering how much attention CIOs pay to IT that delivers genuine, measurable, strategic business value, it’s startling to see large gaps in opinion on concerns as fundamental as cost-cutting and competitive focus. While 84 percent of business leaders ranked cost-cutting as a critical priority, only 37 percent of CIOs did. A similar chasm turned up on competitive focus.

So what’s the big deal with a few differences of opinion? “If you don’t think the same way about money and competition, how can you align with—never mind accelerate or help set—business goals?” writes Senior Editor Kim S. Nash. “Well, you can’t.”

Such misalignments can lead to IT projects that don’t produce the results business units are looking for, notes CIO Nancy Wolk of Alcoa, who uses a simple test to sanity-check IT activities. “We think of everything we do in terms of, ‘Does it help us grow or help us generate cash?’”

Our story delves into a number of creative ways CIOs are dispelling doubts about IT’s impact on business goals. We gathered up strategies from CIOs at Facebook, Maple Leaf Foods, Allergan, Restaurant Technologies, Ogilvy and Mather, ITT, Alcoa and Caesar’s Entertainment. We found bright spots that offset the gloom of some of the research findings as well.

It’s easy to forget how slow the pace of evolution can feel when you’re watching the IT-business relationship mature. But the ultimate direction is crystal clear to every CIO we know. “We need to be in lockstep,” says CIO Karla Viglasky of ITT. “You can’t gain credibility with the business by saying, ‘I need to help you understand what I do.” They don’t care. Instead, you prove yourself every single day.”

Make today one of those days.

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. Email her at